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Human Rights Council holds urgent debate on the situation in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

AFTERNOON

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an urgent debate on the situation in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta.

In his opening statement, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said for half a decade, the people of Eastern Ghouta had been under siege.  They had endured every kind of deprivation, with no aid getting through since November 2017, except for one single convoy of humanitarian aid on 14 February that had managed to reach just 7,200 people of the hundreds of thousands living in that area.  As a direct result, thousands upon thousands of children in Eastern Ghouta were acutely malnourished and profoundly traumatised.  The High Commissioner reminded that the recent Security Council resolution 2410 required all parties to the Syrian conflict to immediately cease hostilities for at least 30 consecutive days, to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded.  He once again emphasized that what the world was seeing, in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria, were likely war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity.  The perpetrators of those crimes should know that they would be identified and held accountable for their crimes; the wheels of justice may be slow, but they did grind.  The Council could have a real impact in ensuring that there would be justice for the suffering that had been inflicted on the Syrian people, the High Commissioner noted. 

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, registered its opposition to holding the unjustified debate on Eastern Ghouta, which Syria deemed politicized and in violation of the working methods of the Human Rights Council.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights was being selective and biased and the credibility of the States that tabled the proposal for the debate was in question.  The United Nations was being used to hinder the advance of Syrian forces against terrorist organizations.  The situation in Eastern Ghouta was the result of terrorist activities and the Government was responding to protect civilians and bring an end to the arbitrary killing of Syrians.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed alarm about the situation in Eastern Ghouta where almost 400,000 people were in dire need of assistance.  The ongoing violence and human suffering was unacceptable.  It was paramount that the parties fully and immediately implemented a genuine humanitarian pause of at least 30 consecutive days to ensure the protection of civilians and medical and humanitarian personnel.  The international community had to be morally responsible for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure. 

Other delegations condemned foreign intervention in the Syrian conflict and those feeding the conflict.  They also condemned countries that were using the Syrian conflict to project their own geo-political interests in the region.  They noted that the debate hid political purposes and as such was not conducive to a solution.  The politically motivated approach represented an open challenge to the ongoing efforts for the rationalization of the work of the Council. 

Speaking in the discussion were European Union, Qatar, United Kingdom, Brazil, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, United States, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Australia, Venezuela, Ukraine, China, Iraq, Cuba, Nepal, Germany, Slovakia, Belgium, Japan, Angola, Senegal, Chile, Sweden, Liechtenstein, Finland, Kuwait, Algeria, Botswana, Sierra Leone, Netherlands, Jordan, Canada, Iceland, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Italy, Ireland, Russian Federation, Iran, Denmark, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Turkey, New Zealand, Belarus, Bahrain, Lithuania, Uruguay and France.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès èquitables et aux Droits de l’Homme, Union of Arab Jurists, Association of World Citizens, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, International Commission of Jurists, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILF), and International Federation for Human Rights Leagues.   

Following the urgent debate, the Council proceeded to hear an introduction of a draft resolution on the deteriorating situation of human rights in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, and of eight amendments. 

Introducing texts were the United Kingdom, Russian Federation and South Africa.

Speaking in general comments were the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Council will take action on the draft resolution and the eight proposed amendments on Monday, 5 March, at 9 a.m.  At 10:30 a.m., the Council will start its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child, with a focus on children in humanitarian situations.  At noon, it will continue its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, and the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng.

Opening Statement

VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, said that on Thursday, 1 March, the United Kingdom had asked for an urgent debate on the situation in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, and that the information to that effect had been circulated to the delegations yesterday evening.

Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that, under the half-decade-long siege, the people of Eastern Ghouta had suffered airstrikes, shelling and release of toxic agents on several occasions.  No aid had gotten through since November 2017, except a single convoy on 14 February which had managed to reach only 7,200 out of hundreds of thousands of persons who lived in the area.  Subjected to every kind of deprivation, thousands upon thousands of children in Eastern Ghouta were acutely malnourished and profoundly traumatised, and were now facing one of the most pitiless onslaughts in this long-running and brutal civil war.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had received reports of relentless airstrikes hitting hospitals, schools and markets in recent weeks, while the Special Envoy’s team had reported attacks on 14 hospitals, three health centres, and two ambulances between 18 and 22 February. 

The recent death toll in Eastern Ghouta had reportedly been among the highest registered in the seven years of the conflict.  People, living in what had once been an ordinary suburb – human beings who shared the rights and hopes of all there – were trapped and battered by bombs and deprived of every human right – above all the right to life, lamented the High Commissioner.  At last, the Security Council had adopted resolution 2401 (2018) six days ago, which required all parties to the Syrian conflict to immediately cease hostilities for at least 30 consecutive days, to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded.  Despite the rare example of unanimity, air strikes and shelling of Eastern Ghouta continued, said the High Commissioner.

What the world was seeing, in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria, were likely war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity, emphasized the High Commissioner, and warned the perpetrators of these crimes that they were being identified, dossiers were being built up with a view to their prosecutions, and they would be held accountable for what they had done.  “Let it not be thought that the perpetrators would get away with this”, said High Commissioner Zeid, and recalling the arrests and convictions of Ratko Mladic, Orlando Montano, Alfredo Asti and Jorge Eduardo Acosta, noted that the wheels of justice might be slow, but they did grind.  He stressed the critical role this Council could play in ensuring determined, inescapable and effective justice for the suffering inflicted on the Syrian people, including through the referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Qualifying attempts to thwart justice and shield the criminals as ‘disgraceful’, High Commissioner Zeid urged all States to greatly increase their support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism set up last year to ensure that information about serious crimes was collected, analysed and preserved with a view to furnishing dossiers for future prosecutions.  This work was indispensable, and it was complementary to the remarkable work produced by the Human Rights Council’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, stressed High Commissioner Zeid and strongly encouraged the Council to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria in the course of this session.  Reaffirming the determination of his Office to continue its own monitoring, reporting and early warning work, the High Commissioner stressed those three were separate but mutually reinforcing processes, which aimed at preventing further horrific human suffering and increasing the certainty that justice would one day be done.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, registered its opposition to holding the unjustified debate on Eastern Ghouta, which Syria deemed politicized and in violation of the working methods of the Human Rights Council.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights was being selective and biased and the credibility of the States that tabled the proposal for the debate was in question.  The United Nations was being used to hinder the advance of Syrian forces against terrorist organizations.  Noting that the United States referred to the humanitarian corridor in the region as a joke, Syria said it was clear that the United States had never been interested in such corridors, even during military operations it led.  The situation in Eastern Ghouta was the result of terrorist activities and the Government was responding to protect civilians and bring an end to the arbitrary killing of Syrians.

Urgent Debate

European Union was appalled by the horrific human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria and the unprecedented level of human suffering, and was particularly concerned by the situation in Eastern Ghouta, where almost 400,000 people were in dire need of assistance.  The parties must fully and immediately implement a genuine humanitarian pause of at least 30 consecutive days to ensure the protection of civilians and medical and humanitarian personnel, stressed the European Union, and called on all Member States of the Council to support the draft resolution.

Qatar noted that the urgent debate would send a message that suffering, violations and crimes against the Syrian people would not go unpunished.  Resolution 2401 gave new hope for a ceasefire and the provision of humanitarian aid.  The Syrian regime had not respected the truce, not even the truce created by Russia, and continued to use blind and arbitrary force.  The international community had to be morally and legally responsible for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, stressed Qatar and said that the solution to the conflict in Syria must rest on the relevant international resolutions, international law and the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

United Kingdom stressed that the Human Rights Council should not ignore the desperate plight of the 400,000 men, women and children besieged in Eastern Ghouta, especially as it was seized of the situation in Syria since 2011.  Eastern Ghouta had become the epicentre of suffering, as starving civilians sheltered in basements from a relentless regime bombardment.  Member States of the Council had to send a clear message to the Syrian regime and its backers that they were watching and that they would hold them accountable for their actions.  

Brazil expressed its concern over the situation in Eastern Ghouta and called for the immediate and full implementation of Security Council resolution 2401.  The resolution applied all across Syria and all relevant actors must do all in their power to implement the text.  The Human Rights Council must act resolutely towards all parties participating directly or indirectly in Syria.  The international community must act in a unified and unbiased manner.

Egypt strongly condemned using violence against civilians and civilian institutions.  It reminded that Egypt was among the group of States that had drafted resolutions on cross-border assistance in Syria.  It was extremely necessary to end the suffering of the Syrian people while countering the actions of extremist factions operating in the region.  Egypt called on the international community to work objectively in order to restore stability in Syria.

United Arab Emirates welcomed the urgent debate and voiced concern over the severe human rights violations in Eastern Ghouta.  According to recent reports, shelling of civilian facilities continued despite the passing of Security Council resolution 2401.  There was a need to expedite the opening of secure corridors to allow for the evacuation of civilians and grant access to humanitarian aid.  The only way to bring an end to the fighting was a political settlement.

Mexico expressed deep concern about air strikes in Eastern Ghouta, which had been qualified by the High Commissioner as one of the bloodiest situations in Syria.  The bombardment of medical facilities resulting in sufferings of humanitarian staff had been strongly condemned.  Mexico believed that the Council had to analyse the situation and take its stand on it, within its mandate.  An end had to be put to the violence and all parties were called on to ensure that the suffering of civilians stopped.  States were urged to stop the transfer of weapons to Syria.

United States joined other countries in demanding an end to repeated attacks on medical facilities in Syria.  Resolution 2401 demanded the immediate cessation of airstrikes carried out by the Assad regime and Russian forces.  There were no words to describe the brutality of these attacks.  Thirteen medical facilities had been bombed and 18 separate incidents had happened on a single day.  Seven years ago, the Assad regime had initiated similar attacks, so today in a chamber dedicated to human rights, all Member States had to stand united with innocent civilian victims of Syria.

Saudi Arabia thanked the United Kingdom for their decision to propose an urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta which had been subject to indiscriminate shelling.  Eastern Ghouta had been witnessing the same scenario that the world had seen in Aleppo last year.  Saudi Arabia condemned blatant violations of international humanitarian law and hampering access to humanitarian assistance as well as use of chemical weapons against civilians.  All parties had been called to implement the Security Council resolution and refrain from attacks.  All humanitarian assistance had to be allowed to freely enter Eastern Ghouta.

Switzerland saluted the adoption of Security Council resolution 2401.  It called on all parties to the conflict as well as the States playing a role in the hostilities in Syria to invest themselves in a credible and urgent manner in order to translate this decision into concrete actions.  Violations of international humanitarian law in Eastern Ghouta and in other areas had reached unprecedented levels.  It was an obligation incumbent upon all parties to protect the people and to provide humanitarian access.  It was imperative to document violations committed and address the atrocities committed during the conflict.

Australia was appalled by the situation in Eastern Ghouta.  Hundreds of people had been killed by regime attacks despite Security Council resolution 2401.  International humanitarian law was clear: there could be no justification for such attacks.  More people would die if Syria continued its offensive.  Australia called upon all parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian actors to reach people in need and to implement the resolution.  Australia condemned unequivocally all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Syria, and called for the international mechanisms in place to bring those responsible to account. 

Venezuela called against the politicization of the Council and said that this was not the first time that Syria was attacked by the Council.  Venezuela regretted the loss of thousands of lives in Syria which were caused by the actions of extremist armed groups in Syria. The world had witnessed the devastation caused by these groups, and the despair among the population.  The international community must provide support to the Syrian authorities to fight against the perpetrators of the crimes.  Venezuela would continue to support all initiatives leading to a cessation of violence and which would lead to a lasting solution. 

Ukraine said the Human Rights Council session had opened with the expectation that Security Council resolution 2401 would be implemented for the good of Syrian civilians.  A week after the text’s adoption, the situation showed no sign of improvement as shelling and horror continued.  Syria and its ally Russia were killing civilians and destroying infrastructure.  Russia had a history of such actions.  Ukraine asked what the Human Rights Council could do when Security Council resolutions did not have a practical effect on crises.

China sympathized with the suffering of the Syrian people, condemned all violence against civilians and civilian facilities, and called for the full implementation of resolution 2401.  A political solution was the only realistic way out of the Syrian conflict.  The political process must be Syrian owned and led.  International counter-terrorism cooperation must be strengthened.  China said there was no need for a separate urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta as the situation on Syria would be discussed later in the session.

Iraq said events in Eastern Ghouta were the outcome of a long transformation.  The international community must work together to help Syrians and uproot terrorist organizations.  Iraq opposed the holding of the urgent debate as there had not been enough time for proper consultations.  The Human Rights Council must work to address humanitarian crises with a sense of responsibility.  The draft text on the situation in Eastern Ghouta did not account for the deliberations leading up to the meeting.

Cuba said that the end of the conflict in Syria should be the moral imperative of the international community.  A just solution must be found to end the conflict, fully taking into account the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria, as well as the right to self-determination.  Cuba reiterated its condemnation of the death of civilians.  All terrorist attacks had been condemned as well as double standards that had followed them.  Cuba trusted the capacity of Syrian people to resolve their differences, but they had not been offered a possibility for peace.

Nepal was deeply concerned over the appalling situation in Syria.  It was regrettable that despite the Security Council resolution, the suffering of women and children continued unabated.  This could not be justified on any grounds.  Political dialogue was instrumental in finding a durable peaceful solution.  All parties were called on to abide by the rules and to open humanitarian corridors allowing the aid to reach those in need.  The international community had been called to react and end the war. 

Germany was alarmed by the continuing violations of international humanitarian law and the widespread gross violations of human rights in Syria.  The dire human rights situation in Eastern Ghouta deserved a response by the Council, to urge respect for international humanitarian law.  Germany was alarmed by the Syrian Government’s sustained denial of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Eastern Ghouta and other parts of Syria.  Strong support was reiterated to the efforts of different mechanisms established to ensure accountability for crimes committed in Syria.

Slovakia strongly condemned the targeting of civilians in Syria.  It called upon all relevant actors to do all in their power to end the war in Syria and all the suffering it caused.  There was no excuse for killing innocent civilians with mortars.  Denying access to humanitarian operators by Syrian authorities was inacceptable.  Slovakia called upon the authorities to provide immediate and unimpeded access.  It welcomed the Security Council resolution 2401, noting that in order for it to have impact on the ground, it had to be implemented immediately.

Belgium expressed its support for the holding of this urgent meeting following the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, particularly in Eastern Ghouta as well as the province of Afrin and other areas.  It welcomed the Security Council resolution 2401, as well as the establishment of lasting peace and evacuation of the gravely ill and wounded, in accordance with international law.  Belgium called for an immediate implementation of that resolution, which had come at the right time.

Japan welcomed Security Council resolution 2401 which called for a ceasefire for at least 30 days.  It called upon all parties to implement the resolution fully and swiftly.  Japan believed that the crisis in Syria could not be resolved by any military means and that a political solution must be pursued.  It called upon all parties to stop any military actions in order to enable humanitarian assistance and to make the utmost effort to advance the political process led by the United Nations.

Angola expressed concern over the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta.  Angola called on all relevant parties to the conflict to exercise restraint and allow access to humanitarian aid.  This was the time to pursue dialogue and negotiations to bring about a lasting solution to the crisis.  Angola insisted that outside interference would hinder those processes.

Senegal said the situation in Eastern Ghouta was a global concern and the Human Rights Council must send a clear message of hope to all Syrians.  Senegal called on all parties to respect Security Council resolution 2401 and allow access to humanitarian assistance to the region.  Senegal also called on all parties to cease hostilities and to provide much needed assistance to the civilian population.

Chile said that since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2401, the situation in Eastern Ghouta had deteriorated.  Chile agreed that all parties involved in the conflict must permit humanitarian aid convoys to reach Eastern Ghouta without restrictions.  Chile condemned the recruitment of children by armed forces and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.  International cooperation was vital to assist civilians and Chile supported the draft text to be introduced on the situation in Eastern Ghouta.

Sweden, in a joint statement with Kuwait as the co-penholders on the humanitarian track on Syria in the Security Council, said that last Saturday a united Security Council had adopted resolution 2401 after negotiations which had been led by Sweden and Kuwait.  A call had been made out of a pure humanitarian interest and the respect for human rights to alleviate the suffering of civilians in Syria.  The Council had an obligation to act.

Liechtenstein said that the current situation in Syria was appalling.  Last week everyone had been gratified that the resolution was adopted, however, it seemed there had been no political will among the conflict parties to implement the resolution.  An immediate ceasefire was needed but the wider framework of resolution 2401 could not be ignored.  The siege should not come as a surprise and it was the result of the collective inaction. The only glimmer of hope was the international, impartial and independent mechanism.

Finland said that the world had seen enough of starving men, women and children.  The deliberate targeting of civilians and blocking of humanitarian corridors had to stop now.  All parties had to refrain from further escalating the situation and must fully respect resolution 2401.  Finland fully supported the United Nations led political process by Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura as the only durable way to end the war in Syria.

Kuwait thanked the United Kingdom for the initiative to discuss the situation in Eastern Gouta following the United Nations Security Council resolution 2401, which had been based on initiatives by Sweden and Kuwait.  Kuwait reiterated its invitation to allow free and unhindered access to all humanitarian actions to all regions of Syria, including Eastern Ghouta.  Since 2013, Kuwait, under the coordination of the United Nations, had organized three international conferences to support humanitarian actors in Syria.

Algeria said the situation in Syria was very troubling.  Armed groups in accordance with Al Nussra were attacking and using civilians as shields.  It called upon the parties to exercise restraint and to allow humanitarian access.  It stressed its position to find a political solution to the crisis and welcomed the positive contribution of the recent conference to push forward a political solution.   The crisis could only be solved through dialogue through a political process, which could unite the Syrian people

Botswana consistently bemoaned the entrenched positions within the United Nations Security Council that led to the lack of consensus, allowing space for perpetrators to continue to operate with impunity in Syria.  It now welcomed the opportunity created by draft resolution 2401 which had led it to claim its rightful place to ensure the promotion of international peace and security.  The 30-day ceasefire in Syria would not only allow for a cessation of hostilities, but for the much needed humanitarian assistance to Syrians in the besieged Eastern Ghouta.

Sierra Leone said human rights were fundamental to the preservation of life, health and dignity.  Sierra Leone asked what options civilians in Syria had if Security Council resolutions on the matter did not hold.  Evacuation, provision of food and water, and vital health services for civilians in the region were essential.  States must do their utmost to ensure dialogue remained open for humanitarian workers to have safe access to the region.

Netherlands said that since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2401 the situation in Eastern Ghouta had deteriorated.  The region had become an unprecedented, man-made, humanitarian disaster.  The levels of violence in Syria were a reminder that States had to pursue accountability for such actions.  The Netherlands would support the draft text on the matter and urged others to do the same.

Jordan expressed concern over ongoing hostilities in Syria and called for an immediate ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta in line with relevant United Nations resolutions.  Jordan called for serious interactions and dialogue.  There was a need to uphold humanitarian law and to stop attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure.  The crisis would only end as a result of a political solution.

Canada called for an immediate end to attacks against the civilians of Eastern Ghouta and for an immediate implementation of resolution 2401 on the cessation of hostilities.  The protection of medical and humanitarian personnel engaged in medical duties as well as hospitals and other medical facilities was critical to meeting the needs of Eastern Ghouta’s civilian population.  All parties were called upon to respect international humanitarian law.

Iceland said that tragic events in Syria had unfortunately again called for an urgent reaction of the Council. The 400,000 inhabitants in Eastern Ghouta had been living in hell on earth, as stated by the Secretary General.  It was imperative that the Council do its utmost to pressure those responsible to bring the killing to a complete stop and allow for humanitarian access to take place.  The world could not stand by, yet again, while massacres were committed in broad daylight. 

Costa Rica welcomed the fact that the Council was holding a meeting on this dire situation. The adoption of resolution 2401 last week had been welcomed, however it was clear that without implementation the resolution had not been effective.  Governments had to be held accountable for their actions.  Costa Rica affirmed it would continue to raise its voice on behalf of the victims and urged all parties to leave aside their differences and engage in a political dialogue.

Bolivia regretted that the crisis in Syria had caused so much suffering.  Only an agreement among the conflict parties would provide a peaceful solution.  Bolivia did not agree with double standards that relativized certain human rights situations, whereas others were written in capital letters.  What were the criteria to consider an issue urgent?  Was not hunger also an urgent issue?  According to the World Food Organization, 815 million people worldwide suffered from hunger.  

Italy welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 2401, demanding parties to the conflict in Syria to cease hostilities immediately for at least 30 days to ensure a durable humanitarian pause.  Italy called for its full and comprehensive implementation.  Italy demanded that the Syrian authorities allow free, unimpeded and sustained access by the United Nations and humanitarian agencies to Eastern Ghouta.  It urged all parties to protect medical personnel, facilities and transport, and it supported the draft resolution. 

Ireland called in the strongest terms for a sustained meaningful ceasefire in Syria, for full humanitarian access, and for the protection of over 400,000 civilians who lived with their families in constant peril and trauma.  Ireland supported the role played by the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, and noted that those responsible for crimes had to be held accountable.  Ireland called on all members of the Human Rights Council to vote in favour of the draft resolution.

Russian Federation said that after the adoption of Security Council resolution 2401 there were efforts to undermine that text.  This debate and draft resolution were an indication of the undermining efforts.  The draft resolution would serve to encourage terrorist groups operating in the region.  Russia asked why external players would want to ally with terrorist organizations and why there was no condemnation of terrorist actions.

Iran said atrocities committed by terrorists in Syria with the cooperation of several States were a major concern.  The situation in Eastern Ghouta was much more complex than was being portrayed in western media outlets.  Terrorists were deploying snipers near the humanitarian corridor, shooting anybody trying to leave Eastern Ghouta.  The conflict must be resolved through a Syrian-led national dialogue.

Denmark said time was of the essence as the world was witnessing the terrible events in Eastern Ghouta and the lack of commitments to Security Council resolution 2401.  The Human Rights Council must seize the opportunity to send a strong message to the parties in Syria.  By approving the draft text before it, the Human Rights Council would join the call for an end to the violence in Eastern Ghouta.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea expressed its objection to the convening of an unprecedented urgent debate on Syria with very short notice.  The debate had been conceived out of hidden political purposes and as such was not conducive to a solution.  The politically motivated approach represented an open challenge to the ongoing efforts for rationalization of the work of the Council.  The efforts of the Syrian Government had been appreciated in mitigating any humanitarian consequences in Eastern Ghouta.

Turkey said that the worsening humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta was a serious cause of concern.  Turkey supported the draft resolution and hoped that its adoption would amplify the call made by the international community through resolution 2401.  The President of Turkey had raised the dire humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta several times with the Russian President.  Turkey was ready to treat the critically ill and wounded civilians on its territory.

New Zealand remained deeply concerned about the ongoing conflict in Syria and the contributing role of human rights abuses.  New Zealand had consistently condemned the Syrian Government for the gross and systematic violations of international human rights law.  Abuses by non-state armed groups which had targeted civilians were also condemned.  Outrage was expressed regarding reports of chemical weapons use in Eastern Ghouta.

Belarus said it had stated on many occasions that a genuine resolution of the human rights situation could only be promoted through a political process.  Belarus had the impression that there was more concern by certain States about their image than about peace in Syria.  The approach was not balanced and this process was being used as a political pressure on one of the sides of the conflict.

Bahrain greatly appreciated the initiative and the efforts made by States leading up to the adoption of resolution 2401 calling for a one-month truce to allow for humanitarian assistance in the region.  It condemned the increased military operations by all actors, as well as the use of illegitimate weapons and heinous crimes against them.  It called for the adoption of the draft resolution submitted to the Human Rights Council by a group of countries. 

Lithuania said as one of the original co-sponsors of the draft resolution, it condemned the continuing siege and brutal attacks in Eastern Ghouta by the Syrian authorities and its allies, which completely disregarded international humanitarian and human rights law as well as Security Council resolution 2401.  It deplored repeated attacks and the indiscriminate use of prohibited weapons by the Syrian government forces. 

Uruguay said it was shaken by the upsurge in armed violence in Eastern Ghouta and across all of Syria.  The situation in Eastern Ghouta was particularly concerning.  Uruguay called on all parties to adhere to Security Council resolution 2401 and also called for access to humanitarian aid be granted.  There was a need to allow the safe evacuation of civilians from the region.

France said the crisis in Syria was of extreme gravity and hostilities continued in an unprecedented manner.  France remained vigilant over the use of chemical weapons across Syria.  The Government of Syria was continuing a policy of destruction and the international community must be mobilized to bring an end to the conflict.  France called on Syria’s allies to pressure that regime to allow for access of humanitarian assistance.

Amnesty International said it had evidence of unlawful attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Eastern Ghouta, including the use of internationally banned cluster munitions, by the Syrian Government with the backing of Russia.  Residents of Eastern Ghouta had been suffering from the cruel siege for the past six years.  The international community had to act immediately to end the carnage.

Human Rights Watch was greatly concerned about the situation in Eastern Ghouta and welcomed the debate in the Council.  Since 19 February, an offensive by the Syrian-Russian military alliance had resulted in the death of over 600 civilians.  The Council was urged to call on the Security Council, and specifically Russia to ensure that the resolution’s requirement of humanitarian access and protection of civilians was implemented immediately.

Conseil International de Soutien à des Procès Equitables et aux Droits de l'Homme voiced their surprise at the fact that the Council had agreed to hold the urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta, following the initiative of the United Kingdom.  Similar sufferings had been happening in Yemen.  Torture of indigenous people continued unabated.  The illegitimate war in Syria had entered its eighth-year and the same scenario had been previously been seen in Iraq and other countries.  The Syrian State was demonstrating resilience with its army and should therefore be supported.

Union of Arab Jurists said it had many times condemned the politicization of the Human Rights Council, where the aim of certain countries was to divert attention and to allow for intervention in the internal affairs of certain States.  The threat to lives of millions of inhabitants in Eastern Ghouta was being done by these very same States, which were arming the terrorist groups and which were using the Council and this urgent debate to distort the facts and to provide a cover for armed sources to the war in Syria.  These States included Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who had provided over $ 10 million to topple the regime in Syria.

Association of World Citizens said Eastern Ghouta had become a closed ghetto where half a million people were suffering from famine and fear.  It welcomed the draft resolution placed before the Human Rights Council, however, it was of the opinion that it lacked a human dimension.  It called upon the Council to accommodate and to enable the people of Syria to live in dignity as members of the human family.  The Council had a duty of protection, and an ethical and moral obligation for the people who were fleeing such terrible things. 

Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, said while the world celebrated the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Africans were being sold as slaves like animals in Libya.  Today Syrians were hostages of geostrategic interests of the great powers.  The ongoing military escalation was not a solution.  It called for a sustainable political solution.  The presence of different jihadist groups and geostrategic interests were having global implications and no one person could put an end to it.

International Commission of Jurists urged the Human Rights Council to adopt the draft resolution before it.  Every day action that was delayed was costing lives and the Human Rights Council must act swiftly.  The Commission called on all forces on the ground in Syria to respect humanitarian laws and standards.  Syria and Russia must comply with relevant Security Council resolutions.

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILF) said it drew the Human Right Council’s attention to the fact that the brave women of Ghouta were playing a fundamental role in telling the story of the situation in the region.  Those women called on the Human Rights Council to pressure Syria to end attacks on civilians and grant access to humanitarian assistance.

International Federation for Human Rights Leagues said recent bombardments in Eastern Ghouta were just one more example of disregard for civilian lives by parties to the conflict.  The Human Rights Council must demand accountability of all crimes and the priority must be the cessation of fighting and granting access to the humanitarian community.  The Federation also called on States to rethink counter-terrorism strategies.

Action on the Draft Resolution

United Kingdom, introducing the draft resolution, said that the text was focused with a purpose to say enough is enough, enough of the suffering of civilians in Eastern Ghouta.  It set out that the scale of the suffering was beyond questions.  It called on States who wanted to see change in Syria to vote in favour of the draft resolution, and it called on States to vote against all of the amendments tabled by the Russian Federation.  Those were without merit in the context of the resolution and aimed to distract from its principal message, which was to stop the deliberate killing of civilians.  The United Kingdom also called for voting against the amendments submitted by South Africa, noting that the aim of the resolution was not to divert attention by criticizing the United Nations Security Council as a whole.  It went against the practice of the Human Rights Council to issue direct criticism of the Security Council.  

Russia, introducing four amendments to the resolution L.2 to L.5, said that the draft resolution was politicized and did not hold accountable terrorists, who in fact were the main perpetrators and who were holding civilians as hostages.  Russia had been warning that international terrorists and militants were responsible for crimes against humanity.  The amendments of the Russian delegation did not intend to bring the draft resolution into a balanced form.  Rather, each State voting on the draft resolution would express its position on international terrorism.  The first amendment proposed condemning all terrorist acts in Syria, in particular in Eastern Ghouta, and Russia was interested in hearing what arguments did the United Kingdom have against such an amendment.  It was further noted that armed groups had fired more than 200 shells and mines during the last week, targeting diplomatic premises, though the draft resolution had been silent on this.  Russia supposed that the reason why this information had not been presented was because the information on Syria had been obtained from the White Helmets, which had been affiliated with Al Qaeda.  Finally, within the fourth amendment, it was proposed to delete the section referring to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria as it had already been discredited.

South Africa, introducing amendments L.6 to L.8 to the draft text, said it joined other nations in condemning the ongoing human rights violations in Syria.  Given the devastating loss of life and the numbers of displaced people, it was up to the Human Rights Council to raise its voice when the Security Council failed to fulfill its mandate.  In examining abuses in Syria, States must consider the culpability of the permanent members of the Security Council.  This was of particular concern regarding the use of chemical weapons.  The Security Council must act decisively on chemical weapons.

United Kingdom, in a general comment, said it did not accept the amendments of the Russian Federation and South Africa.

United States, in a general comment, strongly supported the draft resolution before the Human Rights Council and appealed to humanity in urging that all Members of the Council support this resolution.  The resolution demanded an immediate and unimpeded humanitarian assistance to the Syrians, as well as unconditional safe evacuation of those in medical need.  The Assad regime had refused to cooperate.  Even when a glimmer of hope sparked, the regime removed medical supplies from them.  Could anyone imagine that even baby formula was taken away from besieged Syrians?  There were no words to describe the horror that these mothers and fathers must have.  The resolution condemned the use of chemical weapons, and called upon the Commission of Inquiry to update this Council.  Who could be against that?  Only those who blinded themselves when humanity could prevail.  If any delegation chose to call a vote on this resolution, the United States would vote in favour.  The United States strongly urged all Members in the Council to examine their conscience.

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, stated that it was committed to protect its people from terrorists.  The Government had taken the necessary measures to protect civilians during its military actions against terrorist groups, and it had created safe corridors for civilians.  Terrorist groups had blocked those safe corridors and used civilians as human shields.  The draft resolution ignored those facts and it contained politicized accusations.  If there was a siege, it was the one made by terrorists.  The draft resolution had no credibility with its wrong political messages.   

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